February 26, 2008 / 2:12 AM / 10 years ago

Guatemala to open army files to probe war crimes

GUATEMALA CITY, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Guatemala’s new President Alvaro Colom said on Monday he will open army files for the first time to make public details of massacres and torture by soldiers during the country’s 36-year civil war.

"We are going to make all of the army’s archives public so we can know the truth, to start building on a foundation of truth and justice," said Colom, who beat a right-wing former general to take office in January.

Almost a quarter of a million people were killed or disappeared during the 1960-1996 conflict between leftist guerrillas and the government. Over 80 percent of the murders were committed by the army, according to a United Nations-backed truth commission.

The commission, which compiled thousands of interviews with victims after the 1996 peace accords, named no officials, in part because the army files were not open to the public.

Colom’s uncle, Manuel Colom Argueta, a leftist politician with presidential ambitions, was killed by the army in 1979 in a well-coordinated ambush.

Rights groups say the new army files will help solve war crimes when matched with information in the police archive discovered in June 2005, as police collaborated with the army.

Colom said all the information from the military will be turned over to the human rights ombudsman, also in charge of cleaning and categorizing the thousands of police documents left molding in an old warehouse behind a dump for rusted cars.

The massive paper trail gives hope to family members who are looking for answers about their long-disappeared relatives.

Eighty-year-old Emilia Garcia hopes the army files will contain clues about her son Fernando Garcia, a union leader shot by police in 1984, taken to a military hospital and never heard from again.

"We have been waiting 24 years for the state to give us some answers. All I want is to find my son’s remains, he is not a lost dog," she said. (Reporting by Herbert Hernandez and Brendan Kolbay, editing by by Philip Barbara)




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